A look back at the hits of 30 years ago this week
For about two-and-a-half years now (starting in December 2016), I’ve been occasionally looking back at the charts on my blog, in the form of an ongoing feature I titled “Pop Top 40.”
I love charts, and I generally love pop music, so it’s a natural fit. For each of these, which will now live here at Rock & Roll Globe, there’s an accompanying Spotify playlist; in the event that some songs are missing, they’re hyperlinked by title below. Oh, and you’ve been warned: I love chart minutiae. If you do too, let’s have some fun.
1 2 BATDANCE –•– Prince – 8 (1) — Chart historian and expert Chris Molanphy summed this up pretty nicely six years ago. The TLDR version: “It is so strange!”
2 5 ON OUR OWN –•– Bobby Brown – 9 (2) — 35 years ago this week, the first week of August, 1984, “When Doves Cry” was spending its fifth and final week at #1, holding off Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” at #2. Five years later, right behind Prince’s Batman “theme” was “On Our Own,” the theme from… Ghostbusters II. I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP, PEOPLE.
As for the song itself (which wouldn’t get past the runner-up slot, getting leapfrogged by #4, below, but did spend a week topping the R&B chart), well: it’s absolute fucking pop/R&B perfection, a monster, Brown’s greatest single ever (FIGHT ME) and one of L.A. Reid & Babyface’s, as well. It’s that farty bassline, it’s the tougher than leather beats, it’s Brown’s vocal, which soars. I’m not sure I’d say it’s the greatest song on this chart (#28 and #40 have something to say about that), but it’s for sure my favorite.
3 4 SO ALIVE –•– Love And Rockets – 12 (3) — For those of us moving away from pop and towards college rock (remember that term, kids?), and especially those of us who were goth-oriented, 1989 was a weird summer, with both the Cure and Love & Rockets establishing benchmarks. The Cure’s Disintegration made it to #12 (and come autumn, “Love Song” would make it all the way to #2 on the Hot 100), while the ¾-of-Bauhaus Love & Rockets’ “So Alive,” a fluke-ish hit if ever there was, spent June and July climbing to its early August #3 peak. But this is definitely a hot weather hit; it sounds positively slinky and overheated.
4 10 RIGHT HERE WAITING –•– Richard Marx – 5 (4) — One week away from the top, this became Marx’s sixth consecutive top 3 record and third consecutive #1. I don’t love it, but I appreciate the sentiment of its lyrics. Also worth noticing: no drums! Just guitar, synth, and voice.
5 1 TOY SOLDIERS –•– Martika – 12 (1) — Akin to melted toy soldiers, this goopy ballad smells like a puddle of burned plastic.
6 8 ONCE BITTEN TWICE SHY –•– Great White – 13 (6) — Rock ‘n roll is supposed to be sleazy. Ian Hunter understood that, and so, to a lesser extent, did Great White. It would be hard to fuck up a rocker this classic, and Great White wisely play it pretty straight — and thanks to the hair metal moment they found themselves in, they took one of Hunter’s best compositions into the top 5. I hope he sent them a thank-you card.
7 7 LAY YOUR HANDS ON ME –•– Bon Jovi – 10 (7) — Avoid the album version of this one; stick strictly with the video/radio edit, one of the tightest, hardest singles these guys ever released. Sambora’s ripping it up on lead guitar, and JBJ knows just what he’s doing, and how to give his audience what they want. And he delivers. This is the Usain Bolt of hair metal singles: lean, tough, and ready to tear through that finish-line tape.
8 9 I LIKE IT –•– Dino – 13 (8) — Proof that while this chart has a fair number of great pop/dance records, not all of them are good, like this nothingburger.
9 13 COLD HEARTED –•– Paula Abdul – 7 (9) — But some of them, like this classic, are superb. This took Jam/Lewis’s blueprint for Janet’s hard + dry dance music and perfected it. “Cold Hearted” is a soul vacuum, all glass, steel, and sharp angles, and a better singer would’ve ruined it.
10 6 IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME BY NOW –•– Simply Red – 14 (1) — Mick Hucknall, I knew (well, have listened plenty to) Teddy Pendergrass. And Mick Hucknall, you’re no fucking Teddy Pendergrass.
11 3 EXPRESS YOURSELF –•– Madonna – 10 (2) — Not quite as good as you may recall — Madonna and Stephen Bray’s production, too thin, lets it down — but still vitally needed as a feminist and self-empowerment anthem. By this point in her career, she’d already earned the right.
12 11 CRAZY ABOUT HER –•– Rod Stewart – 13 (11) — Rod’s nadir wasn’t going disco, and it wasn’t “Passion.” It wasn’t even that Legal Eagles song. It was this poorly synthesized, badly saxed-up, sad cumshot.
13 18 SECRET RENDEZVOUS –•– Karyn White – 11 (13) — Following a trio of career-opening R&B #1s, this stopped at #4 on that chart; pop-wise, this became the highest charter of three top 10s from her debut album, going to #6. (For those doing the math: her third R&B #1, the stripped-down, perfect Babyface duet “Love Saw It,” wasn’t sent to pop radio.) You receive no points for guessing this as an L.A. & Babyface (with their protege Daryl Simmons on the co-write) record. And 30 years later, it still slams.
14 24 DON’T WANNA LOSE YOU –•– Gloria Estefan – 5 (14) — Just weeks away from becoming Estefan’s second #1 — all of which are ballads — this weirdly peaked at #2 AC, after three consecutive chart-toppers there. But no worry: the woman I refer to as the Latina Karen Carpenter notched an astounding 17 top 5 AC singles from 1986-96. As Estefan ballads go, this is strictly middle-of-the-pack.
15 19 I’M THAT TYPE OF GUY –•– L.L. Cool J – 9 (15) — A delightfully filthy left turn from LL about a lothario (ostensibly himself) telling his lover’s lover that he can get, and do, anything he wants with the ladies — specifically, yours. The production, complex in smart ways, has a deft touch, and the use of the “oh-wee-oh” chant from The Wizard of Oz is equally clever. “I’m the type of guy to leave my drawers in your hamper” is just perfectly evil, and an evilly perfect lyric.
16 14 DRESSED FOR SUCCESS –•– Roxette – 11 (14) — One of my favorite disses is “hot garbage,” and this is nothing more. I’ve never understood Roxette’s appeal; I find their records purely loathesome.
17 26 HANGIN’ TOUGH –•– New Kids On The Block – 4 (17) — They made better records than this, which is solely teenybop pop that sounds about as thin as a sheet of plastic wrap.
18 20 HEY BABY –•– Henry Lee Summer – 12 (18) — As a native Hoosier, I can tell you that even Indiana was largely embarrassed by this lunkhead.
19 22 FRIENDS –•– Jody Watley with Eric B. & Rakim – 8 (19) — Whatever you think of Ms. Watley, give her this: she took Eric B. & Rakim into the pop top 10 (peaking at #9) and the R&B top 3. That said, what you should think of Ms. Watley is that the former Shalamar member had a smashing solo career, making great R&B records that also worked for pop radio.
20 21 NO MORE RHYME –•– Debbie Gibson – 8 (20) — Hands up if you remember that this third single from Electric Youth existed. No one? No one? Nope, not even me, and I make remembering these things my job. Probably because this is the most generically-written and -produced “lights in the air” ballad imaginable.
21 23 THE END OF THE INNOCENCE –•– Don Henley – 7 (21) — Smarm that sounded “deep” in 1989 against much of the top 40, but today just comes off as insufferably smug. Bruce Hornsby’s piano doesn’t help.
22 29 SACRED EMOTION –•– Donny Osmond – 8 (22) — Unquestionably, the most surprising pop chart comeback of ’89 was that of Donny Osmond. His label Capitol released “Soldier of Love” to radio without telling them who the artist was; audiences loved the song and by the time everyone learned it was by the newly-leather-jacketed Osmond, its momentum was already unstoppable. It made it to #2, his biggest hit ever apart from his 1971 chart-topper “Go Away Little Girl.” (Admittedly, “Soldier” is a pretty great pop record.) For the follow-up, gears were downshifted and he released the ballad “Sacred Emotion,” which climbed to #13 pop/#4 AC — his biggest hit ever on the latter chart. It’s a lovely, creamy ballad with a Herb-Ritts-levels-of-sepia-toned-gay video. But the story gets even more interesting, as about two-thirds of Osmond’s self-titled ’89 album, including both top 40 hits, was helmed by the duo of Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers, a songwriting/producing pair who’d up to then mostly been helming R&B hits for the likes of Gavin Christopher (the ebullient ’86 single “One Step Closer to You”). Their work with Osmond marked their crossover to pop, upon which they capitalized by forming their own group, Rythm Syndicate, whose 1991 single “P.A.S.S.I.O.N.” (a solid dance-pop jam, very ’91) was only kept from hitting #1 by Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do”! (It hit a respectable #20 R&B, too.) And then Sturken and Rogers eventually discovered and signed RIHANNA. So there’s that.
23 28 HEADED FOR A HEARTBREAK –•– Winger – 10 (23) — One of the greatest hair metal songs of all time, and the genre’s single finest ballad, this absolutely flies to the heavens. Not only does Reb Beach get a sweet guitar solo mid-song, I especially love that they chose to end the song with another, almost 90-second Beach solo. I won’t lie: “Heartbreak” hits me squarely in the feels every time I hear it. Also: Kip Winger’s a great singer, and was for my money the sexiest of all the hair metal frontmen of his era. Also: the video features an exploding piano (at 3:17)!
24 31 ANGEL EYES –•– Jeff Healey Band – 8 (24) — The fact that Healey’s blind is irrelevant; this song, along with the bulk of his catalog, sucks. This is essentially a hair metal ballad dressed up in “blues” clothes.
25 30 HOOKED ON YOU –•– Sweet Sensation – 22 (25) — The drums thud, and so does this freestyle dud.
26 12 WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW –•– Exposé – 12 (8) — Freestyle trio Exposé, arguably the biggest freestyle act on the pop charts, scored a quartet of top 7 singles from their monster debut album, Exposure. They’d never chart that high again. Their producer/writer Lewis Martinée was still around, but the magic they’d made on that first album was, imperceptibly, missing on their sophomore effort, of which “What You Don’t Know” was the title track and lead single. So, sure, the first three singles from it peaked at numbers 8, 9, and 10, but none of them are up to the standard of Exposure. This one’s kind of a watered-down version of the freestyle magic of “Let Me Be the One” and “Point of No Return,” and sounds like it. It’s also a bit frantic, which doesn’t help.
27 17 BABY DON’T FORGET MY NUMBER –•– Milli Vanilli – 15 (1) — “Girl You Know It’s True” made it to #2 on the US pop chart, but then its follow-up (this) was the first of a trio of back-to-back-to-back #1s. And you know what? They were great fucking pop records, and I don’t care who sang them. This is premium 1988-89 Europop.
28 34 KEEP ON MOVIN’ –•– Soul II Soul – 7 (28) — I don’t know when I first heard this record. The first time I read about it was in SPIN, right here. And based on what John Leland wrote, I knew it was something I wanted — needed — to hear, immediately. Once I did, it practically ripped my head open: “Keep On Movin’” was so unique, so chill, so Afro-British. It still is.
29 15 WHO DO YOU GIVE YOUR LOVE TO? –•– Michael Morales – 15 (15) — What is this one-hit-wonder piece of hot pop/rock garbage?
30 16 GOOD THING –•– Fine Young Cannibals – 14 (1) — I’m not much of a musical nostalgist, but this ’50s-ish homage > “She Drives Me Crazy.” It’s probably the piano.
31 38 SHOWER ME WITH YOUR LOVE –•– Surface – 6 (31) — This chart is just loaded with limp ballads, isn’t it? Even R&B trio Surface weren’t immune, sadly, heading to #5 pop/#1 R&B with this ditty that I like to think is about watersports.
32 39 18 AND LIFE –•– Skid Row – 5 (32) — Sure enough, like with most hair metallurgists, the big ballad was Skid Row’s biggest hit, climbing to #4. It’s not very good, but at least the guitars are cranked loud…. (see #36)
33 36 COVER OF LOVE –•– Michael Damian – 8 (33) — The follow-up to his gross #1 cover of “Rock On” isn’t very good, but it’s at least better than what came before it. Utterly generic pop that you’ll forget you ever heard five minutes later, which only made it two notches higher than this.
34 43 IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME –•– Cher – 5 (34) — She was charting top 10s in the mid-’60s concurrently with Sonny & Cher. She had three #1s in the first half of the ‘70s. Disco smash “Take Me Home” returned her to the top 10 for the first time in five years in ‘79. “I Found Someone,” and some hair metal-lite production, did it again in ‘87. Then a trash Peter Cetera movie ballad two years later, followed by this, which you largely know because of its Cher-straddling-an-aircraft-carrier video — and because songwriter Diane Warren is, if nothing else, a pro. “Turn Back Time” gave Cher her first top 3 single in 15 years, since ‘74’s #1 “Dark Lady,” and frankly deserved it. This record is ridiculous, but it works.
35 35 ME MYSELF AND I –•– De La Soul – 10 (34) — The first hip hop non-ballad (cf. “I Need Love”) to make it to #1 on the R&B chart couldn’t get past #34 pop — it was perhaps too quirky for mainstream audiences — but is now justifiably known as an absolute classic. Prince Paul’s production is bananas, and the trio all rap so, so, so nimbly.
36 50 HEAVEN –•– Warrant – 3 (36) — …unlike on this gross would-be high school make-out sesh soundtrack. I’ll forever claim Warrant better than you likely think (cf. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”), but this one fulfills all of your worst ideas about ’em.
37 27 MISS YOU LIKE CRAZY –•– Natalie Cole – 17 (7) — Will the drippy balladry contained in this chart ever stop?! Cole was plenty better than this.
38 37 IN MY EYES –•– Stevie B – 11 (37) — Before he succumbed to the slush of things like his future #1 “Because I Love You” — much like most hair metal bands, most freestyle artists had their biggest hits with ballads, sadly — Stevie B was an up-and-coming freestyle heartthrob making good-to-great freestyle records. His, like many of the best of the genre, always had a real perceptible ache to them, and this is no exception. The production here is also surprisingly subtle, to its benefit.
39 47 TALK IT OVER –•– Grayson Hugh – 7 (39) — I feel fairly confident that no one wants, nor wanted, to “talk [anything] over in bed” with this soft-rockin’ spit-polished wannabe-Joe-Cocker doofus.
40 33 BUFFALO STANCE –•– Neneh Cherry – 19 (3) — This single was so astounding, so truly like nothing before it, that Cherry, stepdaughter of jazz trumpeter Don, was put on the cover of UK style mag The Face just for releasing a single record. Co-produced by Mark Saunders and Tim Simenon (the latter also known as Bomb the Bass), this mélange of hip-hop, sampledelic culture, and hot-shit dance music, made with a pop sensibility while keeping an eye on everything, is perfect. The music supports Cherry’s attitude just as much as her attitude supports the music. I’m not surprised it made it to #3 in the UK, where they’re often much more musically open-minded. I am surprised it did the same in the US, not known for that. The ‘90s approached.